Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Become a Member of a Church?

Why, indeed?

In a couple of weeks I'm teaching our confirmation class of 8th~9th graders, and the title of this post is the topic I've been handed.

In my own particular church, there is virtually nothing that an individual cannot do to make a contribution to the community, church and wider world both, beyond being ordained as an elder or deacon, that requires membership.  We nurture our lay leaders, members or not, elders and/or deacons or not, and all are invited, in some form or another, to participate in worship, to serve on ministry committees, to care for others, to engage in church leadership roles, to serve the community at large ~ to contribute time, money, energy, and skills.  And we extend ourselves to one another, regardless of membership status.  

No one in my immediate family but me is a member of my church, but that fact did not limit anyone's ~ pastors, staff, choir, deacons ~ involvement when Josh died.  And I'm not at all sure that my own membership status was the lynchpin.  When I asked how another family had ended up at our church for a child's funeral, what I heard was that they had gotten to know our pastors and had heard that our church is one that knows how to do the funerals of young people.

One of my friends, my age, recently posted on FB that our church is the foundation of her life in community, the place where her closest friends gather. She got several responses to the effect that others find the kind of closeness and support that she was extolling in other kinds of communities.  She continued to defend church as a unique set of relational engagements, but the fact is ~ most people these days are content with other kinds of communities.  So why become a church member?

It's true that a lot of churches are more exclusivist than mine in terms of who can do what.  I suppose that might be a reason to join ~ although I can't say that it would be a drawing card for me.

During my few sojourns in Methodist Sunday School as a child, I learned the little poem with hands and fingers:  Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the door, and . . . 

The thing is, today the people are elsewhere.

I have of course, many other opinions on this matter, but I'm interested in yours:

Why become a church member?  

Imagine that young teenager and her friends in the back of your van as you drive them to soccer practice, and that's the question they're discussing.  What would you offer them?

Image of future pastor here.


  1. This is not an easy question to answer.

    I believe to be a member of a church is a good thing because it is the one place where you can/ will be challenged to intentionally live your life in response to the gospel, and be held accountable to that challenge.

    In the best of all possible worlds.

    Which may or may not exist.

    But that's what I hope to do at my church, and that's what I hope to receive at my church (it's not just the ordained challenging everyone else).

    Of course I could be wrong.

  2. For me, the church is a place where I am challenged to Christian love - to intentionally be in community with those I may or may not choose, to worship together, to consider these folks my family, and to treat them as such, in the best sense of the word. I belong to a very diverse church, and that is intentional on my part, and it is not something I have found anywhere else. Also, these people challenge me, encourage me, and love me in a way no one else in this geographical community does.

  3. What the others said! Also, by participating in the life of a church--which may be a broader definition than "being a member"--I don't have to re-invent everything in my life of faith. This assumes I am interested in a life of faith, which may be a big leap since community occurs in many places that have nothing to do with faith, but I think there are plenty of folks who want a sense of spirituality and this is one way of seeking that. At a church, I hope I can learn how others have responded to that yearning; in their journey, I may find guideposts for my own.

  4. I don't know about church membership per se. I have been deeply connected to six churches in my life, each in different places, and I think only two (my childhood churches)actually had membership rolls. I see that as being an administrative task for the sake of mailings and inclusion in all church activities. If the question is actually "Why be deeply connected to a church community?", the answer is better. Church is the ultimate caring space for the best and the worst moments of life, and for the growing space in between those two. Though not perfect, it does better than anything else at that.

  5. this is a GREAT question. I like to think that it's being a part of something bigger than me, and something where I'm encouraged and nudged and held accountable. but, that's an ideal view.

    I wish more people would answer it...